I would like to dispel a few Italian myths and explain some idiosyncrasies here. The first myth is that “Italy is a hot holiday destination”.  Most parts of Italy are definitely scorching hot in the summer, so hot that poor, pale-skinned English people like me are scared to venture outdoors during the daytime! The same is very untrue during the winter. Here in the Valdarno we are nestled beneath the Apennine Mountains which are usually snow-capped for most of the winter. 

            What people do not expect is that in Italy, people dress for the weather. That means that they do not wear shorts and t-shirts until it is officially summer and laugh at tourists who show too much flesh too early. They also insist on wearing fur-lined boots and padded jackets until the very end of winter, no matter how warm the temperature gets.

Italian houses with their high ceilings are hard to heat and heating is very expensive so most people live in houses which for us foreigners are like fridges, with the thermostat at a gelid 18°. That means when you are invited to dinner in the winter you cannot wear anything glamorous and the same goes for most hotels and restaurants too. Here, when I go out for a meal in winter I wear at least two warm woollen layers, a jumper and cardigan, so that if I get warm I can remove one. This is quite sensible but it leaves foreign guests very perplexed, and cold.

I made the mistake of forgetting how hot it can be, inside, in England. My best friend got married in Essex in November. I packed a sexy dress for the actual wedding, knowing that the hotel where the reception was being held would be well-heated. However, I went out for lunch with my friend the day before wearing jeans and a long-sleeved black jumper. Her other friends, being Essex Girls, were all in slinky see-through blouses and tight short-sleeved t-shirts. I pushed up my sleeves, fanned my face and felt my make-up melting as the hours wore on. Unfortunately I had nothing on underneath except my underwear so had to sit and swelter.

A Scottish friend came to stay in June. I had made the mistake of telling him that June was usually lovely and not too hot. That year it rained nearly every day and I had to lend his wife a fleece top and rain-jacket for the holiday. Once the summer arrives tourists are usually guaranteed the heat they crave but it makes sense to pack and extra layer just in case. Inclement weather however does have its positive side for us women – it is a great excuse to buy something gorgeous from one of the wonderful boutiques here J

Once you get here on holiday there are a few things that it is very handy to know. A simple cup of coffee is fraught with unexpected risks. The coffee is wonderful of course but you must decide whether what you want is a quick cuppa to warm you up or if you want to sit, sip slowly and enjoy watching life pass you by. This is because you will be charged almost twice if you choose to sit at a table and have your coffee brought to  you. Prices can be really high if you decide to have your coffee or ice-cream sitting in a popular town square. Locals know this and crowd around the bar to order an energising espresso, slurp it down quickly and are off again.

Once you have refreshed yourselves in a bar or restaurant, make sure you keep your receipt when you leave. If stopped by the financial police without one you can be fined.

If you are driving over here be very careful if you see the car behind flash its headlights at you. It means “stay where you are because I am coming fast and I’m going to overtake”. It is not the polite invitation to pull out, as used in the UK.

One final myth for the ladies out there, like my mum, who expect to have their bottoms pinched when they arrive in Italy. This custom is no longer in use. No one has ever shown the slightest inclination to pinch me, although Italian men still love to chat up a pretty lady and flirt beautifully. My mother was quite disappointed, I believe!